The Crystal Bearers has been a bit of a staple for us at Square Enix events in the past few months. It was right at the front of Square Enix's E3 2009 booth, and also took pride of place at both GamesCom in Germany and this year's Tokyo Game Show.
Thanks to that it's slightly weird to be sitting down to play the game in a private situation. While The Crystal Bearers stood out at the shows, the charm and high production values really shine in a nice, dark room with the volume turned up.
For those of you who haven't read any of our previous Crystal Bearers coverage including a detailed preview and Interview with the Director, despite sporting the Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles moniker it's probably not what you might think.
The Crystal Bearers is a single-player, story-driven title rather than the multiplayer story-light affairs that have previously populated that series. It's also largely driven by action gameplay rather than RPG battle mechanics, and has a story that is unashamedly shorter than the average RPG.
The game's director described it to us as "Open, Free Action" at E3 2009, and the man actually has the feel of the Crystal Bearers down pretty well with that statement, though depending on how you play the game the 'open' aspect might not seem so true.
This is because The Crystal Bearers is packing a simple, linear story mode which is essentially a series of well directed and produced cutscenes strung together by a plethora of different challenges hero Layle will tackle, each often sporting unique control methods.
Some have taken to calling these mini games, but I'd prefer to refer to them as I did above as challenges. 'Mini-games' to me conjures images of Final Fantasy VIII's Triple Triad or Nintendo's Mario Party series, and the gameplay of The Crystal Bearers has little in common with either of those.
Challenges cover a variety of areas - some will have you platforming, while others will have you pointing and shooting at enemies using the Wii remote. Many will have you harassing the animals and people that inhabit the Crystal Chronicles world, using Layle's telekinesis to pick up and manipulate people and objects.
It's very difficult to describe or even critique the gameplay in The Crystal Bearers, as there's very little consistency in what you're actually doing. You spend little time directly fighting enemies, often solving problems via proxies such as using the weapons of enemies or the environment against them.
The storyline is refreshingly straightforward, with no padding or forced side-missions to stretch the length of the game, instead offering up a simple adventure that'll take you eight hours or so to complete. Cutscenes will constantly propel you forward and the game has a great sense of momentum with the storyline never running out of steam.
The game isn't short though - the game has a massive number of side quests, offering a great variety of extra stuff for those who enjoy the game enough to warrant longer gameplay. These aren't lazy side quests either, with some having their own unique gameplay twists to them despite being optional.
There's also a cool Medal system which unlocks rewards for completing various tasks, many of which will require side-quests to complete. Even with this The Crystal Bearers isn't a full 40-hour RPG, though it does offer a respectable 15+ hours for your cash.
There's other small, fun aspects to The Crystal Bearers, such as the interaction with NPCs which employs a Fable-like emotion system indicated by icons above the heads of NPCs. Characters will get angry if you abuse them and love you if you help them out - it's a simple but serviceable system. You can even use the emotion system to stop enemies from attacking you.
Underneath all this action and story-driven gameplay there are some traditional RPG elements. There's equipment to upgrade and statistics to pool over. There's also a cool item synthesis system, possibly a hold-over from FF9, which many of this game's team worked on.
Money, accessories and equipment don't matter here as much as they do in other RPGs, but it's nice to have them there - a familiar friend in a very differently styled Japanese RPG.
Despite extremely cool ideas, the gameplay of The Crystal Bearers can often be underwhelming and overly simplistic - how the game plays is never the star of the show.
That accolade goes to the presentation of the game. The game is by far and away the best looking title I have ever seen for the Nintendo Wii, and if Square Enix can be proud of anything about The Crystal Bearers it's about how wonderful it looks at every moment regardless of if you're inside a dark dungeon or out in the large, open wilderness.
The storyline is one of the most refreshingly simple, fun, and exciting elements of the game, with the direction in the cutscenes also impressive for the Wii. It's clear a lot of love went into this game, and I for one am hugely excited to see how the English localization comes out.
Some people may struggle with the 'channel flicking' mentality of the gameplay, constantly switching what's going on and how you do it - but I personally found it fun, and the switching didn't get old as the game's excellent story did a great job of driving me forward to the next fun challenge.
In short, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers is a fairly fun Action RPG with multiple gameplay modes made into something much more worth your time thanks to stunning graphics and a really well executed storyline.
I'm definitely looking forward to enjoying it in my native tongue, and we'll bring you a full review closer to the English language release.
The Crystal Bearers is out in North America on December 26th, while it'll arrive in Europe on February 5th. You can pre-order it here.